Full disclosure: A review copy of The Adventures of Robin Hood was provided by KOSMOS.
I’ve been working on this one for a while, weirdly enough. But I also have been trying to get through a bunch of games ahead of attending GAMA, so even though this review will come out long after GAMA, you’re getting my stream-of-consciousness now, before GAMA. I like to traditionally have a few weeks of buffer around my reviews, just because then I’m not stressed about trying to get reviews done while balancing being a Young Adult and having an entire other job that actually pays me for writing. The dream, I’m told. But enough about that. KOSMOS is inviting us to go back to Nottingham and see what’s going on with Robin Hood, so let’s do that.
In The Adventures of Robin Hood, take on the role of the legendary outlaw and fight, explore, and occasionally beat up a dude on a horse. Again, the dream. With the help of some of his closest allies, Robin seeks to unravel a mystery about Prince John’s arrival in Nottingham and some other bad omens coming along with him. But first, he has to save Little John! Never a dull moment for that guy. Will you be able to unravel the mystery and avoid getting captured?
Player Count Differences
So, the big player count difference here is just in terms of what stories get told and what interactions occur, I think. At least, the intro has different stuff for each of the four characters (though two are required at the outset). Beyond that, the game compensates for player count fairly elegantly. You continually add violet cubes per player to the bag, making the Defeat action more challenging (or, at least, requiring players to be more proactive about gaining white cubes to compensate), for instance, or you run the risk of a player being chased because there are simply more players to be chased. I think it’s fun and exciting, regardless, so while I enjoyed my plays at two and three players, I’d happily play at four, as well. It’s just an interesting game system.
To avoid spoilers, most of my advice will correspond to the early game. If it ends up being helpful anyways, well, you’re welcome.
- You don’t always want to sprint to locations. Save your strength and build up the bag in case you need to defeat bad guys. Saving strength is critical, especially when you can’t make it all the way there in one turn. If you can’t, try to stay in the shade so that you can’t get grabbed by any guards. You’re sneaky on purpose; act like it. Stay guarded, stay safe. Getting captured sucks.
- You also do want to be getting in fights every now and then so that you can maintain the Hope track. Even if you’re conflict-avoidant, like me, the game will gradually chip away at your Hope track. To fix that, you need to be getting in some fights and defeating guys every now and then. Plus, if you defeat the right guys, you can occasionally get stuff. The best outcome! Take that dude’s fancy hat and punch him clean off of his horse.
- Getting tools can be helpful, since they have a variety of effects. Like I said, stuff! Stuff has a variety of useful effects, and occasionally, the act of having stuff will allow you bonus interactions, like being able to chop down a tree. There are other general effects, but it’s worth exploring to find them all! Or, you know, reading their effects in the front of the book.
- Similarly, try to figure out what the effect of something that you’re going to Examine will be. Better that than wasting an action, since they’re not all good! You can sometimes guess, but other times, the game will throw you a curveball. It’s a bit rude, in that sense, but there’s not a whole lot that you can do about it. I mean, if you could predict them all, there wouldn’t be much point to having them. So I get it.
- Be careful stepping out of the shaded areas; you might get caught by a guard! Yeah, more specifically, stay in the shade. Guards can’t grab you when you’re in the shade. Are you protected from every possible bad effect when you’re in the shade? I wish I could say that were true. So, be careful! You never know who else will show up.
- Sometimes, the best thing you can do is run distraction. There are times where you can’t really advance the plot, so your best bet is to run around and explore other things. You might find something useful! You might also get into a bunch of fights with randos. It’s a mixed bag. You make the best of it.
- The game is cooperative, so cooperate! Talk to your group and make decisions about who goes where and does what, together! There’s a lot of planning that you can do, especially with no hidden information. The only thing you can’t discuss is what’s in the book that another player is reading. Everything else? Fair game. Plan out your moves! Figure out your objective collectively! Decide on goals.
Pros, Mehs, and Cons
- I really like the movement system in this game. Conceptually, I think it’s incredible. I love that it gives players a physical sense of movement and urgency, and that you can either choose to sprint or not as you’re moving through the game. It even looks good, yeah? Like the physical progression of pieces as your character moves towards their destination is really cool. It allows the game to feel somewhat open-world, rather than burdened by the standard linear paths or adjacency rules of most exploration games. It’s very novel.
- It also comes with a full book! For stories and such. Speaking of novels, the book is a tome. It’s hefty and it comes with bookmarks to save updates and rules changes, which I really like! It’s also just a nice touch? Like it makes the game look like you’re really exploring a classic story of some kind. The book could be a bit nicer quality, I suppose, if I’m nitpicking, but honestly, I’m just impressed it was included at all.
- I feel like this system works super well for giving players the freedom to explore with some danger and consequences, and I’d love to see it applied to more narratives. I mention this elsewhere, but I’m not really into Robin Hood. I think the system has a lot going for it, though, so I’m hoping this is just the first of many Adventures games or whatever KOSMOS and the designer will call this system.
- The combat system is also pretty satisfying! It’s just a little bit of bag-building, and I like it. It’s dead simple to learn. You draw up to three cubes. If they’re all violet, bad! If you ever draw a white cube, stop, and you win! No effort to learn.
- Avoiding spoilers, but I think the gradual development of the board and player abilities over multiple games is really good, too. I like that there are changes to the board that persist from chapter to chapter as you unlock new things. It’s just a nice progression that doesn’t necessarily limit itself in the legacy sense, since it’s resettable.
- The tutorial is also very well-done; it does a nice job of walking players through actions and techniques that are situationally relevant. Love a good tutorial. I think Fog of Love still has the best tutorial I’ve ever played (especially because the instructions for resetting it are very simple, and I’m 95% sure I got half of the tutorial reset instructions wrong for this one, whoops), but this is a pretty solid tutorial. I felt like I learned the game pretty quickly and was ready to go straight into Chapter 2.
- The game also feels like it functions nicely at any player count, which I appreciate. I usually have a preference, but it’s nice not to.
- You know, I thought it was kind of stupid to put a bunch of differently-shaped objects into the same bag, but honestly? It works really well. I really did think that was stupid when I first played it. I mumbled to myself about all these random pieces having different densities and textures (the cubes for the Defeat Action; the tokens for player turns; other, spoilery stuff). And yet, when you’re trying to get a random whatever out of the bag, it works flawlessly. I’m almost a bit angry at how well it works for its use case. All the different items in the bag are different enough in shape, size, and weight that you’re never going to grab the wrong thing if you’re feeling around. It’s brilliant (and cost-effective, since this way, you only need one bag).
- I actually don’t think knowing the story will hurt replays at all. It’s kind of like Near and Far or Sleeping Gods; I think knowing certain plot elements will help, but frankly, even as I type this, I’m not 100% sure what location I needed to go to in the second mission. I remember there being one, but I couldn’t tell you where it was. I think you’ll have some of those vague rumblings on replay, but if that’s the case, then simply … do something else. Go fight some guards. Let the other players explore and discover. If you ever know information that would negatively impact the game, just try letting the story progress along another route.
- Secretly? I’m not really into the Robin Hood mythos, pretty much at all. It’s not that big of a secret, since I’m telling you all, but I don’t really care about the plot of this game all that much. It’s well-written and such, so it’s not really a narrative problem; it’s exclusively a thematic one. I think if you gave me the same game system but it’s set across an elaborate casino heist or something, I’d absolutely love it. So, if nothing else, that really speaks to the quality of the game system.
- While I like the movement system a lot, there’s also a profound fiddly-ness to it, which I am both amused and irked by, depending on whether or not it benefits me. You’re just kind of putting pieces next to each other and saying that’s an exact measurement system, which works every time until you’re just a little bit away. Then, the tension: do you just cheese it? Would anyone even notice? Would you mention that you cheesed it in your review? These are questions nobody can answer but you. But in all seriousness, lacking an explicit guide system for placing and moving pieces means there’s always going to be a bit of wiggle room in the game, and sometimes it’s good, sometimes it’s bad, and sometimes it’s just meh.
- I’m not convinced by the long-term wear and tear on the flippable pieces, though. I’ve only played the game three times and I’m already splitting some of the flippable tokens pretty deeply. I worry that unless you’re very delicate with the game, you’re going to tear something in half unintentionally. Honestly, it makes me miss the plungers from The Rise of Queensdale. Say what you will, but that system really worked, even if it was fundamentally ridiculous. I just get worried about picking at the various board pieces and then trying to force them back in.
Overall: 8.5 / 10
Overall, I thought The Adventures of Robin Hood was a lot of fun! Like I said, probably my biggest gripe is that I’m not that into Robin Hood stuff, thematically, but that’s okay. I’m not horribly burdened by it, either. I do see the potential of a bounded open-ish exploration game like this to be applied to multiple contexts, though. You could be the Sheriff of a lawless western town, a group of rouges in a well-planned and executed casino heist, or even an explorer like The Crew: Mission Deep Sea, searching the ocean for a lost city. There are a lot of options, just because the game system is pretty robust, and I appreciate that. I do have some concerns about the sturdiness of the game, just because in order to flip something over, you really kind of have to get in there and pop it out of the game board, and a less delicate touch can mess up those pieces, a bit. But beyond that, I just think this is a really cool game. It’s got the same level of exploring that I really like from Red Raven’s more narrative games, but it’s targeted at a wider audience, I think (those games, while I love them, are fairly complex). I’d be interested to see what else is done with this system, and I hope it’s not the last I see of it. If you’re a fan of exploration, narratives, or Robin Hood, I think you might enjoy The Adventures of Robin Hood! I’m looking forward to playing it again.
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